Building a Safe and Sturdy DIY Chicken Coop: Step-by-Step
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The chicken coop is a simple structure, but it’s also one of the most important elements of keeping a happy, healthy flock of chickens. While the exact specifications of your coop will vary depending on the breed of your birds and where you live, the general steps and key points laid out here will help anyone build a safe and sturdy coop!
When building a chicken coop, the goal is to build a structure that keeps your hens safe from predators, moisture, drafts, disease, overheating, chills, and escape. Doing it right is crucial for the well-being of your flock.
10 Tips for Building Your Chicken Coop
1. Location of the Coop
The coop’s location on your property is critical to maintain coop hygiene and provide protection for the birds. Build your chicken coop on high ground to avoid flooding, mud problems, or water and moisture buildup. If you can not find high ground, you must build an elevated coop to keep your birds dry.
Also, according to Oregon State University, building a coop relatively close to one’s home or in a highly trafficked yard area is a wise idea to deter unwanted predators. Building a coop away from large plants and lots of foliage that could shelter predators will also help to keep a backyard flock safe.
Sunlight encourages egg-laying, so ensure the coop isn’t always in the shade. A southern exposure ensures greater warmth and sunlight. At the same time, you may want your coop near a tree with a high canopy to keep your girls cool in hot weather, or you could always add a shade tarp over the run.
2. Size of the Coop
- According to the University of Georgia, most breeds of chickens require at least 3 square feet of room in a coop per bird if outdoor range space is available. We would advise at least 4 square feet for standard breeds. So, if you have six chickens, a 24-square-foot coop provides the right amount of space.
- Separate from the indoor coop, chickens should have a “run” or outdoor space of at least 4 square feet per chicken for the outside run.
- If no outdoor range space is available, chickens should have more room inside the coop to spread out. Experts recommend that you have between 8 and 10 square feet of room per bird if you do not have outdoor range space. This is important if you keep a winter coop, too, as it gives space for the chickens inside.
- How much vertical space you’ll need will depend on your breed, as will other specifications such as door heights and the ideal indoor temperature.
- As well as being structurally sound, a coop will need nesting boxes, roosting bars, space for a feeder and waterer, and vents for air circulation. When you sketch out a plan, it’s important to include these objects so that the chickens still have the necessary space. Overcrowding in a chicken coop can lead to a multitude of issues in a backyard flock.
For instance, overcrowding typically causes chickens to fight more, meaning the birds at the bottom of the pecking order will likely have limited access to food and water and may even exhibit cuts and peck marks on their bodies. Overcrowding in a coop also means a faster fecal matter and bacteria buildup, increasing the chances of parasites or insects entering the coop and making the birds sick.
3. Coop Flooring and Material
While there are plenty of options regarding the materials a coop can be built from, some options are better than others. Virginia Cooperative Extension recommends using plain, unfinished plywood for the flooring with a nice deep layer of shavings.
Plywood is not only relatively cheap but is extremely durable as well. Plywood is easy to cut holes and windows in, providing a backyard flock with plenty of ventilation inside the coop. Note that wood can rot and be a home for mites, however. Some folks nail down rolled linoleum on top of the wood since it’s so easy to clean and replace.
4. Predator Protection: Elevate the Coop
One of the most important considerations when building your coop is how to secure a flock from the threat of predators. The biggest threats to backyard chickens include raccoons, coyotes, fisher cats, dogs, and even snakes. Some types of snakes like to eat chicks and may attempt to slither between the coop walls and the ground to access the chickens.
To ensure that snakes and other predators cannot break into a coop from underneath, it’s essential that the coop is raised off the ground 8 to 12 inches—enough to allow the chickens to walk beneath. Otherwise, a dirt floor (with wire underneath to keep out digging predators) might be better than a low-raised floor because rodents and snakes love to live under floors; if the floor is up high enough for the chickens to get in, they’ll keep it clear for you.
Elevating the coop can also help to keep the wood from rotting. Most chicken owners build the legs of the coop with pressure-treated lumber (and the rest with unfinished lumber). Theoretically, you could use non-pressure-treated lumber if the legs sit on bricks or concrete and are not in direct contact with the ground.
5. Secure Latches
Some predators may take a more conventional approach and try to break into a chicken coop through the coop door. Because of this, you’ll need secure latches on all coop doors and vented windows. Raccoons can turn knobs, untie knots, undo bungee cords, lift latches, and slide deadbolts. As well as latches secured with carabiners or padlocks, spring-loaded eye hooks are adequate.
6. Secure Door
A door can be as simple as a piece of plywood on a frame of 1-by-2s, with hinges and a simple latch. Make it large enough for you to enter and exit easily with eggs in your hand or a basket. (Learn how to collect eggs to determine what you’ll need.)
7. Nesting Boxes
You’ll need one nest box for every three hens. Nest boxes should be about 1 square foot, so at least 1 square foot per three hens. Position them lower than your roosts so the chickens won’t perch on them. You’ll find that chickens often want to sleep in the same box, but don’t be worried about this!
For larger breeds such as Jersey Giants, allow an additional square foot of floor space per bird. Learn more about the sizes of different chicken breeds.
You’ll stuff nesting boxes with straw or sawdust so the eggs don’t break. On average, a chicken will lay an egg every one to two days. Adding a couple of “dust boxes” filled with sand is also a good idea, as chickens often clean themselves with “dust bathing,” which will help them keep clean and mite-free.
Consider whether you will bring electricity into the coop for egg laying: A low-wattage bulb will prolong the day during winter months and keep egg production figures more consistent.
9. Roosting Bars
Hens also need a roosting area of about 8 inches per chicken (even if they often crowd together). This will enable the chickens to roost off the floor at night. Plan to install 1½-inch dowels across the upper part of the coop, at least 2 feet off the ground, so the chickens stay dry, especially in winter and wet months.
10. Coop ventilation
One-fifth of the total wall space of your coop should be vented. Ventilation and airflow are critical to avoiding disease. Your coop needs openings cut into the walls near the ceiling for air circulation. They should be higher than the roosts.
All openings should be covered with 1/2-inch hardware cloth that is securely attached so predators cannot enter. Hardware cloth is a more robust gauge metal wire mesh than chicken wire. Note: Chicken wire is meant to confine chickens to an area but is inadequate for protecting them from predators. A hawk or determined predator can tear through chicken wire with relative ease.
Regarding insulation: While chickens enjoy moderate—around 55°F—temperatures, they will survive nicely in the barn through relatively cold winters; their feathers keep them warm. Certain breeds are better for cold climates.
How Much Does a Coop Cost?
It’s difficult to cost out a DIY coop because it’s customized to your size and needs; however, we provided some examples below:
- Simple, pre-built coops can usually be purchased online for $200 to $300 and go up. Look for used coops or old sheds on Craigslist; people move homes, and good deals will come your way if you’re patient.
- Often, you can repurpose a structure. Convert a shed, small barn, or doghouse instead of starting from scratch.
- It’s not necessarily about saving money. Pre-made coops aren’t usually as durable or long-lasting as a coop you’ll build out of lumber yourself.
- Of course, if you can find pallets and reclaimed wood, you can bring the costs down. The hardware and the metal fabric are the most expensive parts. To save money, go to local places that are getting rid of wood.
Visit house construction sites around our neighborhood for lumber that’s just being tossed in the bin. Ask lumber stores if they have scrap lumber, cut-offs, or culled wood that has imperfections. Just avoid lumber coated with lead paint or any chemicals.
How to Build a Chicken Coop
A small coop will take several weekends to design and 2 to 3 more weekends to build, depending on your skill set. Count on numerous trips to your local home improvement store and for it to take longer than you expect. It’s most certainly an adventure—but one that teaches you a lot!
1. Prepare the Ground
You won’t want to build immediately after heavy rains, which will make the ground soft and porous and make it hard to lay a strong foundation. When you are ready to build, though, remove as many rocks and sticks from the ground as you can, and consider cutting back nearby shrubbery and large, overhanging branches. These can harbor predators and make it easier for them to attack your hens, as can nearby sheds, woodpiles, or other dark and shady hiding spots. Consider relocating or removing these as well.
2. Pick Your Plan
If you are building the coop from scratch, choose a plan that fits the considerations listed above. There are many accessible, easy-to-understand coop plans aimed at beginners readily available online, often for free.
Remember, a chicken coop can be less complicated than many of the plans you’ll see. Our first one was a small shed built with recycled wood. The run was screened with chicken wire and built onto the side of our house. It wasn’t pretty, but it did the job.
3. Build Your Coop Frame
The chicken coop pictured above is a straightforward 4 feet by 6 feet. The plan will call for 18 pieces of plywood or “battens” to build out the frame, as well as 8 pieces for the angular roof. At a lumber store, you’ll be able to get all the plywood. If you take the measurements and plan with you, the store can often make the cuts for you, saving a lot of time and effort!
It is crucial that you do not rush the frame itself, as sacrificing quality for speed here will ultimately cost you time by creating problems down the line in your build. If your coop frame isn’t sturdy and secure, there’s no way the rest of your coop can be, either, and you run the risk of losing your birds to leaks, drafts, predators, or even coop collapse.
We’re all for using cheap or second-hand materials, but if there is a place to splurge on quality lumber, it’s the frame. Double and triple-checking all your angles, measurements, and fastenings on the frame now will save you a lot of time and frustration later in the build, and ultimately result in a much stronger, safer coop.
We tend to paint all the exterior pieces first to protect from weather, and then screw the battens together afterwards.
4. Add Coop Walls
You’ll now add panels to the frame of the coop for walls (and two roof panels). Again, the plywood can be cut at the home improvement or lumber stores. The panels get securely fastened to the frame and lay flush along all of its edges, so there are no gaps to let in predators or drafts.
This is also the time to cut your vents, which will be crucial for preventing respiratory diseases and heatstroke. Be sure to cover them with hardware mesh and to make sure any vents that are under the perches are closeable for winter.
5. Put in the Floor
Some plans will call for a dirt floor in your coop, and while this may seem easier, adding a wooden floor is well worth it in the long run because it will result in a much safer, drier coop. Your floor doesn’t have to be perfectly even, but it should be level, with well-secured boards that won’t rock back and forth. Ideally, choose wood that doesn’t have large knots or holes that could let predators in.
Don’t forget to string hardware mesh under the floorboards as an additional protective measure against burrowers. The above plan includes sizing for a floor panel. After the side panels are fitted, you insert the floor panel, screwing it into the frame of the coop.
6. Add Your Doors
You’ll need two types of entrances to your coop, one for the birds and one for you. How high and wide your bird door will need to be depends on the breed(s) of chicken that you keep. Some chicken keepers build larger bird entrances and squeeze through them themselves; others like to make an entire wall removable so they can climb in and out with ease.
The important thing for both entrances is to make sure they are accessible and can be closed securely to keep chickens in and predators out. For your hen entrance, you might consider adding the option to close it with hardware mesh instead of the wooden door, to add ventilation in the warm months.
7. Building Nesting Boxes and Perches
Chickens aren’t fussy about furniture, so all you’ll need here are nesting boxes and perches. Nesting boxes are where your hens will lay their eggs; they can be any sort of box filled with soft bedding. Plan for one nesting box per three hens, or maybe more if you’re planning to keep a particularly broody breed. For perches, a 2x4 will do the trick, as long as it is higher than the nesting boxes, which will make it the most attractive place for your hens to sleep.
8. Build Your Run Frame
For the most part, the same principles apply here as we discussed in building the coop frame. However, the run frame will only have to support chicken wire, hardware mesh, and other fencing, not solid walls and a roof, so the frame won’t have to be quite as strong and perfect as the coop frame. It should still be well-constructed, though, as a solid frame will help keep your fencing secure and protect your birds from predators.
9. Add Your Run Fencing
You may have noticed we’ve mentioned hardware cloth or hardware mesh a lot more than chicken wire in this article. This is because hardware mesh is the fencing of choice to keep out predators. As we’ve mentioned before, chicken wire simply will not cut it; the holes are too large to keep out most ground-based predators. Hardware mesh is more expensive, though, so you can use chicken wire above three feet off the ground if necessary.
Definitely use hardware mesh along the bottom and sink it at least six inches into the ground to keep out burrowers. There is no way a predator could get in unless they bring wire cutters with them. The cost of safety and protection can be high, but it’s worth it.
10. Accessorize the Coop
Waterers, available from farm suppliers, keep the chickens from fouling their water supply. Get one for every three or four chickens.
Also, get a feed trough long enough to let all of the chickens feed at once (or get two smaller ones). Learn more about chicken feed.
Have enough wood shavings (pine) or straw to put a 6-inch layer on the floor and a couple of handfuls in each nest box, and your chickens will have a perfect home. Change the bedding about once a month or if it starts looking flat.
With that, your first chicken coop should be ready to go! It’s good to do a last quality check, to make sure all of your construction is sturdy, your hardware mesh is secured, and your walls will keep out the weather and any animal interlopers. Regular maintenance and checks for warping or damage will also be crucial for keeping your coop as perfect as it was the day you built it.
Remember that a well-built coop will save you a lot of time and money in the future by keeping your chickens safe, happy, and healthy.
Complete Raising Chickens Guide
This is the third post in our Raising Chickens 101 series. See our full series on raising chickens here:
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